Wanted: Unified front on sea code for South China Sea claimants

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 20 2017 09:44 AM | Updated as of Dec 20 2017 11:57 AM

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MANILA - Countries with claims in the disputed South China Sea should make a strong negotiating position when talks for a legally binding code of conduct with Beijing begin next year, according to the director of a US think tank.

Speaking to ANC Wednesday, Gregory Poling of the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines have to lay down specifically what they want to be included in the sea code.

"There's a need for the Southeast Asian claimants among themselves to decide what they want to include in the COC. What they think are reasonable settlements or at least what they think are reasonable resource-sharing arrangements," he said.

Poling said it would be best for the code of conduct to tackle specific details like geography and topics like militarization and what other moves constitute a provocative action, something the 2002 Declaration of the Conduct of Parties failed to do.

He also said the Philippines should take a strong position on the South China Sea dispute, although it already failed to do so when it did not mention Manila's arbitral tribunal victory during the ASEAN Summit.

"I urge Manila and Washington to push for a clarification of the Mutual Defense Treaty. My biggest concern is the Chinese overstep a red line that they think won't provoke a US response, and they are wrong. That's how you do an accidental escalation," he added.

Despite the upcoming talks for a code of conduct, as agreed during the last ASEAN Summit, China has continued developing structures on its artificial islands in the disputed seas, building high-frequency radar, hardened shelters, and underground tunnels.